NJ town underestimates impact of illegal immigrant ban

I file this one under “well…duh” because, quite simply, I find it incredibly ridiculous that the officials of Riverside, NJ didn’t realize that cracking down on illegal immigrants would have any sort of economic or social impact. First, the ban:

A little more than a year ago, the Township Committee in this faded factory town became the first municipality in New Jersey to enact legislation penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant.

The effects?

Within months, hundreds, if not thousands, of recent immigrants from Brazil and other Latin American countries had fled. The noise, crowding and traffic that had accompanied their arrival over the past decade abated.

The law had worked. Perhaps, some said, too well.

With the departure of so many people, the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

And the Mayor’s response, which sums up how clueless people can be:

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden…A lot of people did not look three years out.”

It’s as if they thought of illegal immigrants as some sort of mythical creature that terrorizes the townfolk after nightfall and that could be chased out with torch in one hand, pitchfork in the other. It’s not like these are individuals and families who work local jobs and consume goods – oh wait – they are! That is, they are a (significant) contributor to local economies. Now, a town may decide that they’re willing to take a hit to their economy for the sake of the law, but my guess is that most won’t, which is why we’ll probably see more towns reversing their illegal immigrant laws. There has to be better ways of tackling the immigration issue than this.

Source – NY Times “Towns Rethink Laws Against Illegal Immigrants


Fake acupuncture as good as the real thing?

There’s a study published in this week’s “Archives of Internal Medicine” that performed a double-blinded randomized controlled trial comparing traditional Chinese acupuncture to fake acupuncture to a drug/exercise/physical therapy combo for people suffering from chronic lower back pain. I don’t have access yet to the entire article (so I’m not sure about the specifics), but you can read the abstract here, or read the CNN writeup here. The findings are a bit surprising – not only did real acupuncture out-perform the drug and physical therapy combo, but the “sham” acupuncture (where the needles were inserted superficially at nonacupuncture points) performed almost as well as the real thing:

At 6 months, response rate was 47.6% in the verum acupuncture group, 44.2% in the sham acupuncture group, and 27.4% in the conventional therapy group. Differences among groups were as follows: verum vs sham, 3.4% (95% confidence interval, –3.7% to 10.3%; P = .39); verum vs conventional therapy, 20.2% (95% confidence interval, 13.4% to 26.7%; P < .001); and sham vs conventional therapy, 16.8% (95% confidence interval, 10.1% to 23.4%; P < .001.

In English, 47.6% of people receiving Chinese acupuncture saw improvement in their pain 6 months later, compared with 44.2% in the fake group, and only 27.4% in the modern medicine group. And the comparison of Chinese to modern, and fake to modern are statistically significant.

I wonder if this will change the minds of any doctors who scoff at alternative medicine? Probably not – the research doesn’t say why the Chinese and fake acupuncture worked better. It could be the placebo effect, it could be that needles affect some pain pathway, or it could be something completely different. But, even if it is some sort of placebo effect that is being observed, does it really matter? Not if you are a sufferer of chronic back pain. I had a classmate in high school who was in a car accident and suffered from excruciating back pain as a result. She tried all sorts of therapy, pain pills, and injections, and none of it worked. The only relief she found (and thus the only thing that allowed her to function as a normal member of society) was acupuncture. So, while I’m glad there are studies out there to investigate the claims of alternative medicine, ultimately (assuming the therapy is not dangerous) it doesn’t matter whether they *actually* work in a biochemical/scientific sense – if a person finds relief from their daily pain, real or not, that is most important.

Is breastfeeding obscene?

According to Facebook, the popular social networking site, it is. They have deleted the account of a Canadian mother who posted breastfeeding pictures on her profile. Ok, so maybe Facebook doesn’t necessarily think it’s obscene, but certainly they think it violates their user agreement. One excerpt of the agreement states:

You understand and agree that the Company may, but is not obligated to, review the Site and may delete or remove (without notice) any Site Content or User Content in its sole discretion, for any reason or no reason, including without limitation User Content that in the sole judgment of the Company violates this Agreement or the Facebook Code of Conduct, or which might be offensive, illegal, or that might violate the rights, harm, or threaten the safety of users or others.

And under “Inappropriate Content” they list the following:

While we believe users should be able to express themselves and their point of view, certain kinds of speech simply do not belong in a community like Facebook. Therefore, you may not post or share Content that:

– is obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit

– depicts graphic or gratuitous violence

– makes threats of any kind or that intimidates, harasses, or bullies anyone

– is derogatory, demeaning, malicious, defamatory, abusive, offensive or hateful

So, does a breastfeeding photo qualify as obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit? I don’t think so, but according to the user agreement Facebook reserves the right to delete content with or without notice, and with or without reason (although they deleted her entire account, and not just the photos in question). Many facebook users disagree with the site’s decision, and have started an online group in protest – and the group already has 20,000 members! What do you think of Facebook’s censorship? Justified and appropriate or ridiculous and prude?

Via Aetiology

Newsflash – people who move to the US acquire our diet (and then get fat)

There was a story a few days ago over at CNN discussing the problem of immigrants (and specifically their children) gaining weight after moving here. It’s not really much of a surprise that this happens – many go from a diet based on fresh foods (meat, vegetables), to a diet consisting of prepared meals that are packed with sugar and fat. It doesn’t help that many of these packaged foods are cheaper in the US compared to fresh produce:

“I would always cook a healthy dinner,” the 13-year-old’s mother, Visha Siew-Narine, says about mealtime on the island. “When he came here, I think the fascination of having all this food that we couldn’t afford in Jamaica, or that wasn’t really available, that was kind of new to him.”

In suburban Atlanta, things changed fast. The new foods were cheap, unhealthy and hard to resist: toaster waffles, corn dogs and the chocolate syrup Adrian liked so much he guzzled it straight from the bottle.

My favorite part of the story is the comment from Pat Crawford, the co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at the University of California – Berkeley:

“We really would like to encourage immigrant families to continue the kinds of eating that they ate in their country of origin because our studies show that the longer they’ve been in this country the more likely that their children are going to get fat”

That’s kind of sad, right? Sort of like saying “whatever you do, don’t adapt to our lifestyle! You’ll only end up really fat!” It’s actually amazing how quickly you can put on weight in that situation. My family had a foreign exchange student from Russia living with us for a year, and he probably put on about 20 pounds in the first 4 months. Granted, he was really skinny to begin with so he didn’t look fat, but certainly if he would have stayed in the US it would have been a hard battle for the rest of his life. Much like the kid described in the CNN article, our exchange student was fascinated by all of the “tasty” food here, and didn’t realize how much sugar and fat can be in such a small portion (check out the nutrition facts on a snickers bar, for example). Add to the great taste a really low price, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster – which is what we’ve seen in this country for the past decades, and what is now being noticed in our immigrants. The true American experience I suppose…eating poorly, rarely exercising, and getting fat.


Talk like a pirate!

Start working on your “Arr!” and finding ways to add “ye” to every sentence, because tomorrow is the annual “Talk Like a Pirate” day.

You can also click on the link below to see what your pirate name would be.


My pirate name is:

Bloody Mary Bonney

Every pirate lives for something different. For some, it’s the open sea. For others (the masochists), it’s the food. For you, it’s definitely the fighting. You can be a little bit unpredictable, but a pirate’s life is far from full of certainties, so that fits in pretty well. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network

ABC’s “The View” co-host doesn’t know whether world is flat

And unfortunately that title is to be taken literally. Wow…just wow. Sherri Shepherd, new co-host for the daytime show “The View”, declared on today’s episode that she doesn’t “believe in evolution, period.” This is not news – she was open with her religious and evolutionary beliefs before getting hired onto the show. What is news, however, is what happened after fellow co-host Whoopi Goldberg then asked her whether she thought the world was flat….and Sherri didn’t know! She claims she’s “never thought about it.” Seriously? No, I mean is this woman serious, or is she trying to fool us with her acting skills? I’m assuming she has at least some high school education. I probably knew the earth was spherical before starting elementary school, but once you start school there is no excuse. I mean, hasn’t she ever seen a globe before? Please tell me this woman was joking…otherwise our education system is worse than I thought.

To see the video of Sherri’s stupidity, visit The Huffington Post.

Habeas Corpus – support this bill!

You should take a few minutes to write your representative and ask that they support bill HR2826 – “to restore habeas corpus for individuals detained by the United States at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and for other purposes.”. To read the bill in its entirety and to track its progress, go to this site and type in “HR2826” for a bill number search.

Habeas corpus is a right so important, the 1969 US Supreme Court called it “the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.” You don’t have to support the bill, but know that as it stands right now it is possible for you to be arrested (yes you Mr./Mrs. US Citizen!), sent to Guantanamo, and held indefinitely without access to a lawyer or judge, merely by being labeled an “enemy combatant” in this “war on terror.” (and don’t think for a second that innocent people aren’t routinely held and tortured)

Via Pharyngula

NY Restaurants win in battle with city over calorie content

I posted about this awhile ago (“Raise your hand if you think eating at McDonalds is good for you“), but now there is an update in the situation. First for some background: NYC sees rise in fat people, thinks citizens can’t think for themselves and wants to require restaurants to post nutrition info on menus directly next to food item of interest. Restaurant association gets upset – says it’s not fair, and that it punishes many of those who already voluntarily post the info on their website or chart in the restaurant.

Says Big Brother NYC officials:

The regulation will counteract “an obesity epidemic” in New York…The city argued that posting calorie information in a prominent place would have had “a substantial potential for public health impact” and that consumers were likely to decrease their intake if they knew how many calories they were eating.

The state restaurant association:

[They] challenged the regulation by arguing that it was technically superseded by the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which requires nutritional labeling on all packaged foods and outlines some criteria for restaurants that voluntarily post their own caloric information.

Manhattan District Court Judge Holwell took the side of the restaurants (though it appears there is still plenty of room left for the city to tweak the legislation so it’s legal).

I’ve got a couple points to make – first, NYC officials lose points for misusing the term “epidemic”. Obesity cannot be an epidemic, flu and other infectious diseases can (let me know if you ever get fat just from standing next to an obese person who breathes on or touches you, and I can add it into the epidemic category). Second – they thought that by merely making the information more obvious and in-your-face, that people will magically make healthy choices. Seriously? If you’ve already followed the fried-potato smell from the street into the McDonalds, you’re not going to turn around and walk out after seeing exactly how much fat is in that Big Mac. The people who eat at those places on a regular basis tend to order the same thing each time anyway, so they probably don’t even glance at the menu. (side note – I once knew someone who referred to a quarter pounder with cheese as a “snack” – all the labeling in the world won’t change that mindset) Third – NYC officials wrote the legislation because of the “potential” to make a public health impact. Aren’t you happy that the city experiments with your tax dollars, instead of spending time and money on things that are proven to benefit public health? Just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling…

But I’m not letting the restaurant association off too easy. A spokesperson for the group said that:

federal regulations that require nutritional information on packaged food have done little to combat obesity. “We feel the way to address obesity is through education, not legislation,” he said.

I’m willing to agree that nutritional info on packaged goods probably hasn’t had a huge impact. Although I tend to look at the labels when shopping in order to avoid foods really high in salt or saturated fat, my guess is someone who is not as health-conscious (and thus more likely to be obese) could care less that the labels are there. As for education over legislation, I don’t know how I feel about that. Certainly I won’t side immediately with legislation for its effectiveness – in my opinion legislation tends to consist more often than not of nanny-state regulations – an attempt to control how you live your life. But I’m not convinced education has a huge impact. Yes you need some education if you want to know what you should eat, but how many people who went to public schools and had the food pyramid beaten into them actually eat according to those guidelines? (I mean, let’s be honest – I know I don’t get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables everyday.) Incentives are what people need – carrot and stick. Reward people for healthy choices, punish people for unhealthy choices. But this isn’t the job of the government (or it shouldn’t be, but of course I also don’t think they should be involved in health care to the extent they are) – health insurance companies and businesses that pay health insurance premiums for their employees are the ones who should be in the incentive-business. You don’t really have the option of switching countries if you disagree with the government, but you can always change jobs if you don’t like your employer.

To read about how financial incentives can help people lose weight, check out this article from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (via SciGuy)


“Suck it Jesus”…the petition

There is now a petition to oppose the censorship of comedian Kathy Griffin’s acceptance speech at the Emmy awards. In case you aren’t familiar with the incident, during her speech Griffin said:

“a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.”

Followed by the part that is being censored:

“Suck It, Jesus. This award is my god now!”

One of the groups protesting the speech is the Catholic League – ironically enough if you google the group, the title of their website that appears is “Catholic League: For Religious and Civil Rights.” Apparently they forgot about the right to free speech. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – free speech means that someone has the right to say whatever they please, regardless of whether it is offensive to an individual or group. They’re free to speak, you’re free to be offended and certainly free to respond with your own views. It’s a bit amusing, because I’m guessing her speech wouldn’t have gotten near the attention it has if it weren’t for the Catholic League’s pressure for the network to censor and “denounce” the words. (it was obviously done for comedy and to provoke a response – mission accomplished!)

Regardless of your religious views, if you don’t want your own views or beliefs censored or prohibited you should sign the petition – free speech is only free when it applies to everyone…not just the majority: Petition

Video of the entire speech:

Via Aaron Kinney at “Kill the Afterlife” blog

Sept. 12 – A day of intercourse in Russia

You can get off work for half a day if you pledge to have sex with your partner…and if you happen to give birth on June 12 (Russia’s national day) you could win a car or other prizes. It’s only for a region of Russia and not the entire country, but the idea is amusing, as it’s primary goal is to help boost the country’s dwindling population (and it seems to be working, at least for the particular region). A bit of a perverse way to win money, but I suppose there are worse things you could be doing than getting pregnant while in a relationship.

More on this strange story here.

Companies charging unhealthy employees

Private companies are beginning to charge extra for employees who are unhealthy – either through a higher insurance premium or through deductions from their pay (around $5 or $10 per paycheck depending on condition). It’s a bit different than the other side of the issue I’ve talked about before, which is offering discounts for healthy employees, but the outcome is the same – those who are unhealthy end up paying more. Some employees are happy about it, and see it as an incentive to get healthy:

“I knew if I wanted to be healthier and pay less, it was up to me to do something about it,” said Morrison, who has lost 54 pounds and lowered his body mass index enough to earn refunds the past two years.

Though of course not everyone will like the idea:

Some workers and employee advocates say companies are intruding in workers’ private lives.

The National Workrights Institute says employers adopting the charges are trying to control private behavior and amassing huge amounts of personal health information.

“It’s a backdoor approach to weeding out expensive employees,” legal director Jeremy Gruber said.

First off, I wouldn’t exactly call it an intrusion on their private lives. Yes the employers need certain health information, but if you want to keep it private technically you have the choice to pay the penalties or get insurance through a different source – obviously that is not ideal to most people, but it’s a choice nonetheless. As for weeding out expensive employees, I don’t think it will do that. I think the companies are simply getting real about the fact that health care inflation is out of control, and something needs to be done about it. It makes sense for smokers or the obese to pay more in premiums, because they will likely consume more care, and their conditions are preventable. If companies don’t start to make these changes, they won’t be able to offer insurance at all because it will be too expensive.

I really don’t understand the mentality where it’s considered wrong for an unhealthy person to have to pay more. If you fail to quit smoking, you should have to pay for your COPD treatment. If you need to lose 75 pounds because you never exercise and your diet is terrible, you should have to pay for the multitude of health problems that will inevitably result from your obesity (e.g. diabetes, hypertension, etc). It just doesn’t make sense for someone who doesn’t smoke, who exercises fairly regularly, and who eats healthy, to subsidize someone else’s poor choices. I could understand the uproar if the companies were trying to charge more for someone who got cancer – I mean, the whole point of insurance is to protect yourself against certain risks, and obviously the odds of a working age person getting cancer is small (whereas the odds of a smoker getting lung cancer or COPD is really high and thus not much of an “insurable” risk).

There’s an entire article from the AP discussing the issue: “Some Companies Penalize for Health Risks

Ever wondered why a violin is so hard to play?

Then check out this article from Plus Magazine by J. Woodhouse and P.M. Galluzzo. They give some nice illustrations of why a violin sounds different than a guitar, as well as why beginning violinists have so much difficulty producing an “acceptable” sound. They key, apparently, is to find a happy medium between a “surface sound” and a “raucous” sound, called the Helmholtz motion:

There are now two travelling corners on the string, and there are two episodes of slipping per cycle of the vibration. The result is a note at the same pitch as the Helmholtz motion, but with a different waveform and a different sound. For whatever historical reason, this sound is not regarded as acceptable, at least by Western classical violinists. Your violin teacher is likely to dismiss it as “surface sound”, and tell you to practise more until you learn not to do it. The switch from Helmholtz motion to this double-slipping motion sets a minimum acceptable level to the bow force, the force with which the bow is pressed against the string.

There is also a maximum acceptable bow force. If the bow is pressed too hard, instead of a musical note the violin may produce a raucous “graunch” noise. The vibration of the string is no longer regular, but switches to a chaotic pattern. Needless to say, this sound is also disapproved of by violin teachers.

I’ve played the violin since I was 10, and I can easily say that it takes more than a few years of practice to successfully avoid those unacceptable sounds on a consistent basis. Anyone who has learned the instrument or has kids learning to play will be familiar with the scratching and screeching that accompanies a beginner. To demonstrate the difference, I present a begginer (30 seconds worth…they make those beginning tunes short for a reason):

And a master – Heifetz, Melodie by Gluck (I picked this one because you can really see how he changes the angle, speed, and relationship of the bow to the bridge to get varied sounds…all while still achieving the “Helmholtz” motion. He’s also really good at masking the sound of his bow changing directions, which is more difficult than it might seem):

These ideas of “acceptable sound” also play an important role in determining the playability, and thus value of an instrument or bow:

Everyone knows that some violins are a great deal more valuable than others. Why does this happen, when all normal violins appear to be very similar? One aspect of this is “beauty of sound” from the instrument, which is very difficult to address in scientific terms because you first have to find out what a listener means by beautiful sound. However, if you watch a violinist trying out instruments, you may hear comments like “I don’t really like the sound of this one, but it is very easy to play”, or “This one sounds good but it is very slow to speak”. Players are not only interested in sound quality, whatever that may mean precisely, but they are also interested in ease of playing – the playability of the instrument. If one violin is more accommodating than another, in terms of producing Helmholtz motion more reliably or faster, then that violin is likely to be preferred by a player.

I’ve gone through the process of upgrading to a better instrument on a couple occasions, so I definitely agree that some instruments are just easier to play. A more expensive bow just does things for you – a bow stroke that used to take a lot of effort and concentration happens more effortlessly with the better bow. Or you may be able to get a more diverse range of sound that your previous violin couldn’t attain. That always fascinated me – some instruments definitely sound better, but a better instrument provides a range that you couldn’t previously imagine, and allows you to experiment more with your technique and have more “tools” to apply to a piece. Anyway, the article is fascinating for anyone interested in how a bowed instrument produces sound, particularly if you like a bit of the mathematical approach.

Article: “Why is the violin so hard to play?

Via Musical Perceptions

Stupid republican debate (Sam Brownback, I’m looking at you)

Sometimes it’s really difficult being a libertarian – I can’t agree with either of the major political parties. Case in point, I’m currently watching the Republican debate on the Fox News channel where they just finished discussing gay marriage. According to Sam Brownback, I’m not married. No I am not gay, I am a woman married to a man, but he was blabbing about “social experiments” and said that marriage should be between a “mom and a dad.” So not only does it have to be between a man and a woman to be official, but you have to have kids? Guess my license is no longer valid until I put my uterus to work.

Ok, I’m sure he didn’t actually mean that you have to have kids (he probably misspoke – but it may have been a Freudian slip…to him I’m probably nothing more than a baby machine). The whole anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendments astound me. It’s such a blatant example of discrimination – who cares what contractual arrangement 2 people want to sign? It doesn’t affect your life. If they love each other and are in a committed relationship, how is that significantly different from any other relationship? And again, how does that affect your daily business? (hint – it doesn’t!) It’s not like some disease – ooh, look out…you don’t want to catch the “gay.” Grrrr…no more debate for me tonight. It’s not good for my health.


Is this video real?

It certainly seems real (although I’m pretty gullible…) – if it is, it’s quite sad. I know our education isn’t perfect (50% of Americans don’t believe in evolution), but I guess we can say with confidence that we shouldn’t be looking to the French for advice anytime soon:

His wife/girlfriend looked pissed!

How long will you live?

According to Northwestern Mutual’s “Longevity Game“, I’m expected to reach the ripe age of 95. Not bad, if I may say so…though anything is possible in this world. A lot of the measures are pretty obvious – smoking, diet, exercise, weight – but the folks over at EconLog are debating whether it is too “PC” by not including measures such as income, which is generally correlated to life-expectancy. Still, it’s fun to play around with the variables to see how it changes your lifespan – for instance, by changing my gender to male, my initial age drops 7 years. I guess it’s good to be a woman…(at least in this regard).